Every now and then, I get mad as hell about something and wonder what it would be like to be the best bus driver in this little town I know in Utah. It's one of those perfect places. A handful of characters, a fantastic restaurant, unbeatable roads, and some quiet.
That's pretty much all it is. It's pretty much all I need.
So when people tell me they're mad as hell about something, I tell them about Boulder. I caught my friend Rebecca, then a PhD candidate studying alpine plants, in one of those exact moments. Now she cooks in the kitchen of that restaurant.
Because Rebecca promised an epic dinner and because I've spent two years trying to find an excuse to get back to Boulder, that's our destination for the night. That it's on the way to where we're going is coincidence. That our itinerary is already shifting, it's more like our destiny. A shipwreck in the desert has already derailed our plans; it's barely dawn. A recorded voice tells me, "Thanks for calling Bullfrog Ferry. We've had a glitch in our gears, it's going to be a while before the ferry is running again, folks." And just like that, our drive is very different.
I'd been talking up the Lake Powell ferry, just like I'd been talking up the rest of the day's drive, to Bowman. He's alternating between loading his bags into the Million-Mile Miata and laughing at it. Bowman loves driving more than he loves writing, and he's got good roads, so he lives one bad day away from f*****g off for good in his own much newer Miata. There are miles upon miles of tight and twisty Tennessee, and Bowman lives a stone's throw away from those spectacular roads. Bragging on mine took some pluck, but I know Bowman is sold.
So we pack the car and head north. We escape Sedona's cool river valley and stop to admire the Miata against bright red rocks and bright green trees. I suggest Bowman drive the good bit, the long, tight, and cambered climb up Highway 89. I'd been stymied in my fun the day before, but Bowman has clear roads and the Miata is winded enough that he can throw us across them with a clear conscience.
Top down, ridiculous exhaust noise yowling off rock and stone, and eyes locked on miles of perfect tarmac, Bowman says, "How is this possible." It's a statement, not a question. It's not even directed at me. Minutes later, he looks over and says, "Why would you want to drive anything else?"
He's got me—I don't.
The West suits Bowman more than he knows. He's really just like everyone else from Tennessee: You wind those people up, and they'll beat hell through the wilderness until they're perched in the Rockies or hanging over the Pacific. They'll never feel right once they leave their native state, but they'll go looking, and you'll find them casually heading home from every perfect backwoods berg you think you've just discovered. The West doesn't get to keep many Tennesseans, but that they'll depart a fine place to try to find something better makes me like them an awful lot.
We make Flagstaff before the locals have opened their doors, so we kick around and take our breakfast options seriously. Flagstaff is a great place to kill 30 minutes of morning. It dabbles in old brick and mining-camp kitsch, like any railroad boom town, but it also has a university and a symphony and Pluto was discovered here in 1930. It's also easy to find an excellent plate of chilaquiles, and there's no better way to start a day than strong coffee and chilaquiles. So close to the apex of civilization, 30 minutes go by quickly. On the way out of town, we conclude that Flagstaff has more desirable old trucks than any place we've ever been.
And then we start the long slog north again.
Without the ferry, our day is shorter, but there'll be a lot of awfully hot nothing between Flagstaff and Boulder.
We navigate, there aren't many decisions; we try the radio, there aren't many stations. We put the top up. We air-condition. Bowman cracks, "That A/C button is like dropping flaps."
We zone out.
Next thing we know an hour, we make Lake Powell.
We stop at the Glen Canyon Dam, 60 miles southwest of where we thought we'd be this morning, and we're stoked to have a place to wander around. Photos are taken. Souvenirs are bought. I think I would've liked the place better without the dam.
After the excitement of the lake, the driving turns laborious. It's hot. We're burnt. Spectral sunscreen fingerprints cover the doors, wheel, and dash, and they aren't the only ghosts of our frequent driver changes. The Miata is crowded by water bottles we've compulsively bought at every stop. That rising tide makes the car feel lived in, and the desert outside is so inhospitable that we don't have anything livable for backup. Our entire world shrinks to 71 square feet of hurtling, droning Mariner Blue. Things are running smoothly now, but if our little blue planet craps out, we'll need all that water we've collected, and more.
We're heading west, the wrong way, and just skating over the top of the Arizona border. It's the ferry haunting us—it would've given us a straight shot north. I know how good it's about to get, but I can't feel it with all the heat. Bowman just suffers in silence.
If I've made it sound like a tough drive, it isn't. It's beautiful, just really damned hot. Then we hit Kanab and turn north and drive right into the guts of a half-dozen national parks.
These weird red rocks. Those weird white rocks. These roads. There's nowhere more surreal, spectacular, or alien. The best of it is set aside in parks, so you can see it someday. Do.
By the time we hit town, we're spent. Bowman and I have been laughing our asses off for hours, practically alone, on roads we couldn't dream up if we tried. We drove through tunnels of red rock, green river valleys, and long, vivid gunsight canyons. We saw a summer thunderstorm coming and neglected to put the top up, stopping instead to install new wipers. We sit up high in the seats and get rain and bugs in our teeth. Yeah, we're smiling like idiots. We have been for miles.
We pull into town and call Rebecca, who has finished cooking and is fiddling with her dirtbike. We have better tools than she does, and a strong desire for beer, so we lend a hand. The three of us watch the sun duck behind the mountains while we bleed brakes, fiddle with wiring, and get our hands dirty before dinner.
"I wonder when I'll come back," I say aloud to Bowman.
"I wonder if they need a mechanic," he replies.
The next morning, Bowman says, "I just want to reel in one of those Camaros at Daytona, that's all." This is the road that brought me back to Utah. Done right, it will lead you from the ferry at Bullfrog right to the restaurant in town. It'll blow your mind along the way, so Bowman and I were up early again, adding another 50 miles to our trip. It's on this road that I hand the keys over to Bowman, at exactly 329,000 miles. I'll go with him to Grand Junction, but the car is his problem now. If he's not pleased, he's faking it well.
Heading back into Boulder for breakfast, two yellow-bellied marmots leap into the path of the Million-Mile Miata. Only the first Marmot makes it across the road.
I think about the second marmot, the one that didn't make it. Natural selection rewards boldness sometimes. Then I look over at Bowman. He has another 2500 miles ahead of him and a Miata with 13 trips around the world already behind it, and I think, "Yeah. That's about right." Natural selection is a hell of a thing.